In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till from Chicago was visiting his cousins in Mississippi when he was abducted and lynched for whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. His mother decided to show her son’s swollen body in an empty casket for all the world to see.
Her quest for justice is chronicled in the new film “Till,” which opens nationwide on Friday.
“It was told to me as a cautionary tale, a means to prevent something like that from ever happening to me, but I can’t put my finger on what age it was,” 14-year-old actor Jalyn Hall told WTOP. “Going into this project I got to learn in depth about not only this story, not only this series of events in detail, but about these two human beings: this mother and son.”
The film doesn’t show the brutal lynching, but rather the lives of those affected.
“This gives you a very lively representation of their relationship together; the joy and love that they shared,” said Hall, who portrays Till in the film. “The story is told through the perspective of Mamie, his mother. We see the trials and tribulations that Mamie goes through, while simultaneously learning about the different figures that she met along the way who aided her journey.”
The leading role of Mamie Till-Mobley is played by actress Danielle Deadwyler, who viewers will recognize from HBO’s “Watchmen” and Netflix’s “The Harder They Fall.”
“It was very easy for us to get that bond,” Hall said. “Straight off the bat from our chemistry reading, it was an amazing time. Some auditions can feel like auditions, but this one was so natural, down to earth and energetic. … It translated even more on camera because she has a son as well, me and my mom’s relationship is great, so a lot of it translated.”
He was the most star-struck by co-stars Whoopi Goldberg (“Ghost”) and Frankie Faison (“The Wire”), who play his on-screen grandparents, John and Alma Carthan.
“When I saw them, it was just that kind of nervousness like, ‘Oh my God, that’s them,’ but I can honestly say that they never made it feel like that,” Hall said. “In this business, that’s crucial to have that levelheaded, modest humbleness to you — and that’s what they have. They were themselves 100% of the time, just being that natural, unfiltered being.”
The film is directed by Nigerian-American filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu, the first Black woman to win the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for “Clemency” (2019).
“Everything down to the letter font and the poster has a meaning,” Hall said. “She’s such a meticulously detailed director in the way that everything she does is for a reason. It’s so thought out. She’s overall an amazing director but an even more amazing person. Going through a project like this with such heavy material, it really takes a village.”
Their common goal was to create a movie that is both captivating and educational.
“Not only is it lively in the way that it connects you with it from a cinema movie standpoint, it’s also educational because everything was proofread, everything was very authentic and very accurate,” Hall said. “A lot of the people that you meet along the way are people that a lot of [viewers] wouldn’t know about or have forgotten, so it’s an educational film as well.”
Now is the time to educate yourself after George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Just this year, Congress passed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act making lynching a federal offense.
“There is so much relevancy,” Hall said. “That’s a sad thing to realize: something that happened 67 years ago is still relevant to this day. We get to see the very instance that inspired a lot of figures who created change in the community. … I can’t tell you there hasn’t been change, but we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to put in.”